We shall be commemorating the battle of Whte Mountain on November 8, 1620, in which the allied Catholic armies defeated the rebellious Estates of the Bohemian Lands. A few decades ago, the battle was still perceived as a national catastrophe which started three hundred years of Habsburg tyranny, but today it does not seem to excite anyone in the Czech Republic. Even though we might believe that the Bohemian rebellion is an exhausted topic, we could still argue that Czech historiography of the last twenty years has made some significant contributions that are worth reading. Even though we might believe that the Bohemian rebellion is an exhausted topic, we could still argue that Czech historiography of the last twenty years has made some significant contributions that are worth reading. (Please note that I shall deliberately focus on Czech historiography, and do not discuss US or Canadian authors, who are already well known in North America.)

Justifying the Right of Resistance

First of all, there have been some books that shed new light on the situation before the uprising. I would chiefly recommend Zdeněk Vybíral´s narrative of the Estates opposition, which was the first (and only) Czech work covering the whole development from 1526 to 1618 (1627). The classical works by Josef Janáček and articles by Jaroslav Pánek covered some periods of this development, but not the whole story. Vybíral´s aim was to focus on manners of communication between the ruler and the Estates opposition, but he also put forward one aspect of the story that is still not common knowledge in the Czech Republic: the Kingdom of Bohemia was no longer an elective kingdom. It was already the Landesordnung of 1549 (and the related events) that turned it into a hereditary monarchy, the struggle of the Estates before the famous Defenestration of 1618 was about electing the next king during the lifetime of the ruler. Matthias had already had his successor Ferdinand of Styria elected (or “accepted”) in 1617, during his own lifetime. (All this had actually been highlighted in the Chronicle of Pavel Skála of Zhoře, but it is not yet common knowledge.)

The intellectual and legal arguments of the opposition have also attracted more attention than previously. Every researcher should check the excellent article by Dalibor Janiš about the right of resistance of the Estates in the legendary volume Ein Bruderzwist im Hause Habsburg of 2010 (= Opera historica 14, 2010), pp. 277–306. While Janiš explored valid legal frameworks, the right to resistance also found philosophical backing in the tract Pro vindiciis contra tyrannos by the learned physician Jan Jessenius. This text has recently attracted the attention of the philosophers Tomáš Nejeschleba (Jan Jessenius, Praha 2008) and Kateřina Šolcová. She provided a modern bilingual edition of the Latin text (Kateřina Šolcová (ed.), Jan Jesenský, Proti tyranům, Praha, 2019). It had also been published as a critical Latin edition with an English commentary in the journal Acta Comeniana 2015, 29, pp. 137-168. Even though earlier research believed that the tract originated as a university thesis in Padua in 1591 when Jessenius was studying there, both scholars now tend to argue that this original thesis never existed. Jessenius fabricated it and earlier conjectures on its relation to the Venetian republican context are ungrounded. Šolcová sought to uncover its relation to the natural law tradition of Catholic and Lutheran denominations.

The two Apologies of 1618 have not attracted any new editors, but the National Library of Prague digitalized some of the original multilingual versions and published them on books.google. The Apologies have been newly commented by Marie Koldinská in her biography of Kryštof Harant z Polžic, where she approached them as a tool of political propaganda. There is also a new well-informed encyclopedia entry on the subject by Tomáš Sterneck.

Rebellion in the Regions

While these contributions to intellectual history are somewhat isolated conquests, the exploration of the rebellion in the regions is a theme that has been explored in a systematic manner. The trailblazer in this field was certainly Radek Fukala with his research on Johann Georg of Jägerndorf  (Jan Jiří Krnovský) who put up the last resistance in Upper Silesia. Fukala capitalized on his earlier research in a comprehensive work, The End of the Winter Kingdom (Konec zimního království, České Budějovice 2016), which tells the fascinating history of the last pockets of resistance in the town of Tábor, the castles Zvíkov and Orlík, in Lausitz/Lužice and in Upper Silesia. These were places where the fight continued even after the White Mountain.

The story of Plzeň / Pilsen which was conquered by the rebels in 1618 was newly narrated by Jan Kilián (Dobytí Plzně 1618, České Budějovice 2018) and the same town has also received a brand new multivolume history.

What may be new for Czech and international audiences are the developments in Southern Bohemia, explored by Tomáš Sterneck. Contrary to Plzeň, the town of České Budějovice/Budweis resisted the rebels who besieged it. However, the rebels lost their cause after their army operating in Southern Bohemia was crushed in the battle of Záblatí in June 1619. After learning about the unexpected victory, the frustrated townsmen of České Budějovice made a surprise attack on the neighboring Lutheran town of Rudolfov / Rudolfstadt and massacred the inhabitants. The rebel military commander Georg Friedrich of Hohenlohe had his headquarters there. The media image of the battle of Záblatí has been reconstructed by Josef Čížek in an article in Opera historica 19 (2018), pp. 7–32. Sterneck reconstructed the experience of the beleaguered town of České Budějovice in a collection of documents (Věrnost a zrada v ohroženém městě, Praha 2019) and in a monograph about the fight for the town (Boj o České Budějovice v letech 1618-1619, České Budějovice 2019). In addition to that, Sterneck has also managed to write a couple of historical novels on the same subject.

Unfortunately, there is no new monograph on the developments in the fascinating North-West region of Bohemia, where the towns of Žatec/Saaz and Louny/Laun joined the rebellion. It was a region of mixed Czech-German and Catholic-Lutheran identity. The topic is covered in Fukala´s book, but the last original contribution on Maxmilián Hošťálek was Bohumír Roedl´s monograph of 1997. The same author published an article on the chronicle of Pavel Mikšovic, which describes the uprising in Louny/Laun (journal Porta Bohemica 5, 2009; the chronicle was published in Sborník historického kroužku 1900-1915).

On the Brethren, Lutherans and the Jews

The single most important event in research on the non-Catholic communities is the surprise discovery of two boxes containing the correspondence and documents concerning Matouš Konečný, the bishop of the Bohemian Brethren. This occurred in 2006 during the reparation works in the ancient Brethren Center of Karmel in Mladá Boleslav / Jungbunzlau. The documents have been published by Jiří Just from the Academy of Sciences and his team (Kněžská korespondence Jednoty, vol. 1, Praha 2011; Markéta Růčková, vol. 2, 2014).  Jiří Just, Josef Hrdlička and Petr Zemek have also published an edition of evangelical Kirchenordnungen that originated at the level of nobility owned manors. (here a review) Jiří Just also collaborated on a volume on the history of Lutherans in Bohemia, which is also a new topic in Czech historiography which has been traditionally focused on the Utraquists and the Brethren as “national” churches, while ignoring the “German” Lutherans.

Regrettably, there has been no such dramatic development in the history of the Jews (who remained loyal to the Habsburg Emperor during the Revolt). The most important new developments in the field are the contributions by Pavel Kocman on the Moravian Jews which mainly map the population, economic history and life of several communities (Judaica Bohemiae 2005, pp. 160-260; 2011, pp. 293-313; 2018/2, pp. 5-51). Due to the nature of his archival documents, his research pertains mainly to the situation after the revolt, whereas Pavel Sládek´s new research on the Maharal of Prague pertains to the situation before the revolt (Judaica Bohemiae 2009 and 2017, Nr. 2; his book Jehuda Leva ben Besalel el Maharal, Praha 2020). The destiny of the Jews in the town of Roudnice/Raudnitz during the revolt is discussed by Hana Legnerová and Petr Kopička in the journal Judaica Bohemiae 2005, pp. 5-43. Fortunately, the collective volume, Hebrew Printing in Bohemia and Moravia (Prague, 2012) edited by Olga Sixtová of the Jewish Museum covers the whole early modern period including the revolt. It has a comprehensive chapter on the Jewish printers in Prague (1512 to 1670) by Olga Sixtová (pp. 75-122) and another comprehensive chapter on the censorship of Hebrew books in Prague (1512-1670) by Alexandr Putík from the Jewish Museum (pp. 187-214). His chapter provides actually a good survey of the changing Habsburg policies toward the Jews who began to be proscribed after 1626, even though they remained loyal to the Habsburg ruler.

On Personalities, Towns and Communication

There have been some new biographies of several outstanding personalities. Tomáš Knoz produced a biography of Karel the Elder of Žerotín/ Zierotin, Marie Koldinská contributed a biography of the rebel Kryštof Harant of Polžic and Jan Kilián produced several works on Filip Fabricius, the best known victim of the Defenestration of 1618. Except for Fabricius, they had been all discussed before in biographies by earlier historians. The biography of Polyxena of Lobkowicz written by Marie Ryantová is the only monograph that focuses on a woman. The largest new work on the leaders of the rebellion is the collection of documents concerning the Directorium member Šťastný Václav Pětipeský z Chýš, which was edited by Miroslav Žitný.

There have been a number of new books on the histories of towns which may have contributed something new. The huge book “Víra a moc” (The Faith and the Power, 2013) by Josef Hrdlička on the recatholicization of Jindřichův Hradec/Neuhaus is a significant contribution which seeks to show how the ‘confessionalization’ of the local population occurred following the example of a nobility-owned town in Southern Bohemia. Perhaps the current grant project on the communication between the rebellious towns by Petr Hrachovec of the Academy of Sciences may lead to a comprehensive discussion of the subject.

Communication is indeed a favorite subject among Czech historians of the period. The international communicative networks during the Bohemian rebellion have become the subject of the current grant project of Václav Bůžek and his team from the University of South Bohemia. In a similar manner, Jana Hubková in her respected book explored the media image of the rebel King Frederick of the Palatinate.

However, anyone who wishes to apply ‘communicative networks’ as a method, should also read Zdeněk Šimeček´s comprehensive survey of the early history of newspapers, which has a section on the situation during the revolt (Počátky novinového zpravodajství  v českých zemích, Brno 2011, pp. 154-184). Šimeček  argues that Prague as a center of communication lost its significance in favor of court-based agents and novelants in Vienna, but Frederick of the Palatinate brought with him Protestant printers from Germany and turned Prague into a center of Protestant propaganda. This was still the age of handwritten news, although the regular printed Ordinari Zeitung began to appear from 1621 onwards. The aristocratic leaders had to rely on personal media networks and conversely foreign leaders, such as the Elector of Saxony, had their news agents in Prague. Šimeček stresses the significance of Gabriel Püchler, a versatile novelant based in Prague. After the Battle of the White Mountain, Matthias reduced the number of novelants in Prague (regulation of December 25, 1620).

What I regret is that the larger superregional collaboration of the rebels from the Bohemian and the Alpine lands has not generated any scholarly interest recently. As of now, the classical studies by Jaroslav Pánek on the Confederacy do not have successors. Most Czechs don’t even know that Protestantism was so vibrant in the ‘Austrian lands’ and that there was an intense military collaboration between them and the rebels.

For more details on the state of research in the Czech Republic check the review article by Václav Bůžek (“Die Habsburger in der frühneuzeitlichen tschechischen Geschichtsforschung”, Opera historica 20 (2019), pp. 288-315).

Ivo Cerman